Neuroses of a Homebound Traveler

Trying to get a handle on the many odd neuroses and anxieties that may pop up when traveling post-pandemic.

As we slowly emerge from COVID-quarantine, it’s time for me to finally work on the odd anxieties and behaviors that I often exhibit whenever I get involved in major travel

General Worries

travel anxieties
Kariwak Beach, Tobago. Photo by Kenny Mitchell flickr. com.

Each vacation abroad, I am forced to confront my many Foreign Vacation Anxieties, including:

  – Will there be enough bathrooms (and will I be able to distinguish men’s from women’s)?

  – How much should I tip (and can I use US dollars, since I rarely have the right foreign currency)?

  – How many outfits (and at what levels of dressiness) will I need?

  – To what level of detail should I insist that the car rental contract identify pre-existing marks and scratches?

  – If my wife dozes on a drive (and I’m forced to rely on my godawful sense of direction to find our next destination), how do I avoid taking us across a border and possibly into a war zone?

Bibliophile Confusion

Being a lover of books, I got very excited when I received an email with the header: “Book Vacations Now.” Then I realized it was suggesting that I “book a vacation,” not announcing a “book vacation.” Bummer.

Over- and Under-Packing

No matter how much (or little) I pack, I start every vacation believing I took too few items of clothing – and compensate by over-wearing my clothes – but end realizing I took too many – and under-wear (yes, especially underwear). So I start each trip going 2-3 days per outfit, and end each trip wearing 2-3 outfits per day.

Pre-flight Jitters

My nightmare: A mid-flight emergency. In a moment of panic I forget the safety instructions I’ve heard hundreds of times. As a result –

  • I try to undo my seatbelt by pushing the sides in, like a backpack, rather than lifting and pulling the latch.
  • Then air masks drop from above and, in frantic confusion, I put my companion’s mask on her face before putting my mask on my own face or, worse, I put my mask on her face and hers on mine, getting our masks twisted and forcing the stewards to untangle us.
  • (Which makes me wonder: are flight attendants also instructed to put their own masks on before assisting others? Then how do they reach us to assist: Extra long hoses? Oxygen tanks?)
  • Oh, god, it’s a water landing and I can’t find my flotation device! The attendants always assure us they’re under our seats (the life jackets, not the attendants); but I’ve always suspected they just say that (while secretly giggling and wink-winking at each other).
  • I panic going down the evacuation slide, my right leg gets pinned under me, and I flip onto my face, thereby trapping myself and dozens of others in a burning plane.

With these thoughts, I begin most flights.

Free Snacks

Airlines used to be generous with snacks (“To show our appreciation for your spending several hundred dollars on your ticket, here are 12 tiny pretzels and a Pepsi”). These days, if you’re lucky, you get a flight attendant carrying a tray with assorted cookies, chips, pretzels and occasionally nuts (or a high-tech nut substitute) and asking you what you want. I assume the airline’s expectation is that you’ll say “nothing, thanks” or request one measly treat.

My wife and daughters defy this expectation by routinely asking for whatever they really do want: “Please give me the chocolate cookies and Terra Chips. Also, that package of biscuits and eentsy bag of peanuts. Plus that lovely flight attendant blouse…”

To me, that sounds greedy and could cause this attendant to think ill of us.

Yes, for reasons that escape me I worry about my passenger rating by an attendant whom I’ve never seen before and will never see again, and who doesn’t give a crap about who eats how much from her tray (it’s the airline’s snack budget, not her personal treat). I mean, really? It’s not like she’ll post a critique of my snacking habits on social media (though if I had that in writing, I might feel safer).

Caring less about what a total stranger, serving economy coach, thinks about me is a major life goal. (My motto: Think small!)

When To Read Travel Books

I put this topic last because I take the contrarian view and maintain that the best time to read about places you visit is AFTER you’ve been there. Most people take the opposite approach and foolishly read up on a place before they visit; but consider the result:

First, on top of all your other trip preparations and anxieties [see above], this adds the pressure of choosing the right resource:

  – Should you buy or borrow a tour book? (Is photocopying key pages prudent planning or cheating authors?) Alternatively:

  – Should you eschew the quickly-outdated printed word and rely on online resources, such as TripAdvisor or Fodor’s Travel? Or:

  – Is it better to just pester friends who recently visited your destination (not the friends who go five-star; nor the ones who enjoy extreme sports; but those who travel the safe and thrifty middle like you do)? Or even:

  – Should you hire a tour guide (and how much will you have to tip)?

From the outset, so many decisions, so much angst!

Second, since it is impossible to plan where you will go with exactitude, you will copy pages and read about places you may never actually see. Not only is this a waste, but it can make you experience post-vacation FOMO: Really, isn’t it better not to know that you missed the museum housing Europe’s best collection of pre-Raphaelite finger-painting than to wonder how much you would have enjoyed Rossetti’s toddler art?

Third, studying where you’re going and what you plan to see eliminates the element of surprise. NONE of the following home-video voiceovers would be uttered by someone who read up in advance:

  –  Look! Pyramids … in the desert! Who knew?

  Why is there a ruined stadium where the Roman Colosseum is supposed to be?

    Wait, in addition to casinos, Niagara has WATERFALLS!?

    Wow, here we are in China, looking at this wall, and you know, it’s really great!


The above reminders are very helpful: COVID or no COVID, I’m staying home.

Howard Zaharoff
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